Own goal of the week

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  1. DCBob said,

    December 17, 2020 @ 1:54 pm

    I take it that singular 'they' is a KnowNo ….

  2. Aaron said,

    December 17, 2020 @ 3:32 pm

    I think this is what the kids call a "massive self-own".

  3. David Marjanović said,

    December 17, 2020 @ 4:31 pm

    Maybe this is deliberate – it could be intended to illustrate the absurdity of it all.

    The own-goal would then lie in the fact that what sounds patently absurd to one person sounds perfectly cromulent to the next.

  4. Chester Draws said,

    December 17, 2020 @ 10:24 pm

    If Bob wants to be a "they", then when they have left the office, do I say "they have left the office" or "they has left the office"? There's only one of them, so it should be "has", but no-one is ever going to say that because it sounds utterly wrong.

    But when you say "they have left the office" people are going to read that as multiple people have. No confusion will arise, I am sure.

  5. Ken said,

    December 17, 2020 @ 11:39 pm

    @Chester: I half-suspect you are also illustrating the absurdity (as David M. puts it), because I can't give the singular version of your example without knowing whether Bob is short for Robert or Roberta.

    (And that's simplifying considerably, since Bob may have chosen a set of pronouns that don't match Bob's biological gender.)

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 12:12 am

    Along the lines that David Marjanović suggested, maybe it's a fumblerule.

  7. Sean Fearnley said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 1:10 am

    @Chester Draws There's only one of you, and yet you *have* made this comment.

  8. Chas Belov said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 2:14 am

    I use "they have" for singular "they" but use "themself" for singular "themselves."

  9. Chester Draws said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 4:14 am

    @Chester Draws There's only one of you, and yet you *have* made this comment.

    Yeah, because you put me in second person. That's how English conjugates.

    But would you write "Chester Draws have made made this comment?" No, because I'm singular

  10. John Swindle said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 5:00 am

    @Chester Draws: Yes, that's how English conjugates today. But "thou hast" became "you have" despite reference to only one person; first, I gather, as the royal "you" and then (and despite Quaker "thee has") more widely. If "he/she has" becomes "they have," it'll be following a well-worn path.

  11. RfP said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 5:03 am

    @Chester Draws

    Thou hast perhaps not remarked upon how nonsensical the shift from a second person in the singular to the employment of a plural second person to cover both singular and plural must have seemed when this shift was underway. O, how confusing a time it must have been.

    How did we ever get over it? Or did we?

    [(myl) See "That false and senseless Way of Speaking", 7/1/2016, and "George Fox, Prescriptivist", 10/24/2010. ]

  12. Rose Eneri said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 8:15 am

    I have a serious question about using people's preferred pronouns. First, let me say that I fully support people's right to present as any or no gender(s) they want. But, it seems to me that grammatical number agreement is hardwired in our brains. I honestly do not think I would be able to use a plural pronoun when referring to an individual person.

    While watching "Billions" I never got used to characters referring to Taylor in the plural. I was always confused until I reanalyzed what was said.

    I also think about a situation, such as in a workplace or a classroom, where several people in a group choose non-standard pronouns. How would a teacher or fellow workers keep them all straight? For me, the only solution would be to stop using pronouns and only ever use each person's name. "Give back to Sally Sally's pencil."

    Moving forward societally, I think the best solution is not to use the plural, but to use the singular masculine for every individual person. Masculine just because it's shorter.

  13. Jimmy said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 10:37 am

    It's too late to try to change the direction of society. Society has already agreed on "they" as the third individual pronoun. It takes plural verbs, and the reflexive is "themself." Luckily, society has also sort of converged on the idea, more or less, that "they," "she," and "he" are it. But getting rid of "she" is much harder than adding "they" — many people have "she" as their pronouns and wouldn't want to be referred to as "he"; it simply won't catch on.

  14. Terry K. said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 10:53 am

    Rose Eneri, you seem to have missed a point of the original post. "They" is not always a plural pronoun. There are single-person usages that are old and established that we don't even think about. Like the one by the anonymized person in the original post, using it to talk about a hypothetical person. And the one by KnowNOthing in the original post, using it for a specific person being talked about anonymously.

    The problem is not using a plural pronoun for a single person. The problem is using a pronoun that is both singular and plural (they) for an individual in a way that makes many of our brains think of is as plural.

    And, really, I think the only way to get over the hurdle of the disjunctiveness that causes for many of us is familiarity. It also helps, for me, being able to think of someone as non-binary. "They" is much more natural, for me, when used of someone that I can't neatly fit into a "male" or "female" box.

  15. Terry K. said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 11:22 am

    Typo in my comment above… the end of the middle paragraph should be "…think of it as plural.". (In case the typo confuses any readers.)

  16. Josh R. said,

    December 20, 2020 @ 7:15 pm

    Rose Eneri said,
    "I honestly do not think I would be able to use a plural pronoun when referring to an individual person."

    As suggested in other comments, you do this already when you use the modern 2nd person pronoun, which was originally plural, and still conjugates plural.

  17. Batchman said,

    December 23, 2020 @ 12:59 pm

    As far as "Give back to Sally Sally's pencil," Christian organizations in the US, such as the United Methodist Church, have been following a similar practice with regard to referring to God, per their "inclusive language" policy that disallows identifying God as male or female. This leads to some awkward formations to avoid pronouns where there is no alternative phraseology.

    To my knowledge no one yet is referring to God as "they". That would call monotheism into question, perhaps.

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